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Industry Innovators

Chris Folkerts: The Man Who Revolutionized Cannabis Consumption

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Chris Folkerts
PHOTO | Grenco Science
Eaze

Chris Folkerts revolutionized the concentrate market by developing a line of personal, portable vaporizers that introduced the world to digitized cannabis consumption.

His company, Grenco Science, launched their flagship product, the G Pen, in 2012.

Since then, Grenco Science has become an industry byword for quality and innovation. Their family of products has now been extended to include the Gio, Pro, Elite, and the recently debuted Nova.

We spoke with Folkerts about the company’s culture, building a lifestyle-tech brand, and being an industry innovator.

From the Analog into the Digital Era

Chris Folkerts has advocated for cannabis for more than 24 years. The Belleville, Illinois native was first introduced to the plant when he was 13 years old.

Cannabis appealed to him right away. “It was something that spoke to me. When I started to use it, it was understood as a drug, then as a medicine,” he explained, before eventually using it recreationally.

Folkerts attributes the medical cannabis movement for breaking the stigma and challenging stereotypes. But, it’s safe to say that he also played an important part in revolutionizing the industry too — by blending cutting edge technology with cannabis consumption he brought it into the modern era.

Folkerts began his career as a concert promoter, touring the country and managed hip-hop and rock bands. His career in the music industry brought him to California in 2009.

Three years later, he launched G Pen, becoming one of the first vaporizer companies to develop a vape for cannabis concentrates.

The inspiration for the device came from e-cigarettes, Folkerts explained.

The first e-cig he saw, he recalls, had cotton as a wick. “While it worked, it wasn’t effective in getting users high,” Folkerts said. He also noticed that most devices, at the time, did not come with refills. That was his “aha!” moment.

Folkerts wanted to create the vape pen because he “saw the power behind it and converted it from analog to digital, more or less.”

From there he developed the G Pen, which hit the California market in 2012. In doing so, the brand became synonymous for vape pens, much like Kleenex became a generic term for tissues. Some even credit the brand for making vape pens famous.

An Instrument for Acceptance

The company was undoubtedly instrumental in taking the stigma about off concentrates. Vapes in general, Folkerts asserts, help take away the stigma of smoking cannabis because there’s a big difference between heat combustion and lighting something with a lighter.

The G Pen introduced new technology and a new way of consuming cannabis. Grenco Science is recognized as a pioneer of the Californian concentrate market for that reason.

Having a device that’s portable, and discreet all in one system has, Folkerts said, “been very instrumental in building acceptance.”

The G Pen’s sleek designs and ease of use make it a popular choice among consumers.

“It’s functional and ergonomic,” he said, “it feels good in the hand.”

G Pen products are recognized for their superior form and function. However, the brand isn’t just focused on product innovation; but also, making vaping a more meaningful experience.

“We’ve always considered ourselves a lifestyle-tech brand,” Folkerts said.

To achieve this, Folkerts pulls on his experience in the music industry to build partnerships with musicians, athletes, and artists. G Pen brand ambassadors include Snoop Dogg, Wiz Khalifa, and Berner.

Berner with the GPEN x Cookies Gio.

The company also established “the Charity Series; a collection of products tied to nonprofit organizations wherein a portion of net proceeds are donated with each purchase; and the Artist Series, an installment of collaborations with industry-leading artists and brand ambassadors.”

“We’ve done everything from a collaboration with Burton Snowboards, and the artist Phil Frost, [and having a] Coachella party,” he added, which was attended by School Boy Q, Action Bronson, and members of the Wu-Tang Clan.

“It’s all about creating that [interactive] component,” he added.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

The music and cannabis industries have plenty of parallels, Folkerts said. Much like putting on a concert or event, “There’s an army of people that make things happen […].”

“It’s passion, people’s livelihoods, [and it’s about the] work ethic,” he added.

The staff — most of which have been with him since founding the company seven years ago — are all “willing to roll up their sleeves and do anything that’s needed of them. There’s no ‘that’s not my job attitude’.”

He credits his team and company culture for the success of Grenco Science. His leadership style very much reflects that; “without the team, its just my ideas.”

With that success has also come challenges. Some of those hiccups include issues scaling to size, ordering, misprints, and failed partnerships, Folkerts described — but he and the Grenco Science team see those as learning opportunities.

“Having a company that’s growing too fast, and a team that’s not experienced in scaling [….] you can find yourself behind a lightning bolt,” he explained. What matters is adaptability, and the willingness to learn, he added.

“We are fortunate to surround ourselves with a team that took us from to being a label to becoming a brand.”

The company remains committed to developing cutting edge technology, said Folkerts, alluding to the introduction of new technology later this year.

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Industry Innovators

Cheri Sicard: Cannabis Activism Never Tasted So Good

Renowned cannabis chef and activist Cheri Sicard has launched a new website to help eductae people on how to create their own edibles and topicals.

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Cheri Sicard
PHOTO | Cheri Sicard

There’s no such thing as an edible that’s effective for everyone. Cheri Sicard, aka Cannabis Cheri, knows this well — and she’s teaching others how to perfect infusions that work for each individual.

Her at-home recipes and do-it-yourself projects have earned her the title of the “Martha Stewart of Weed“.

But, Sicard wasn’t always a proponent of the plant. In fact, she was “once one of the pot-averse females she’s now aiming to educate,” reports the Daily Beast. 

“Be Involved, Be Educated, Celebrate”

Before she became the acclaimed foodie, activist and entrepreneur she is today, she traveled the world as a variety arts performer in the circus, and as a magician and mentalist. 

“The circus is a traveling melting pot,” says Sicard.

 That’s where she realized her passion for food. In addition to visiting local marketplaces, she says, “I would hang out with a lot of the matriarchs of the families, and I learned how to cook all these ethnic foods.”  

She combined her love for food, and writing — and in 1996, founded FabulousFood.com, one of the largest online recipe sites at the time.

In 2002, Sicard’s first book, The Great American Handbook, was published. The book is described as a guidebook to patriotism, and offers 101 suggestions on how to be involved, educated, and how to celebrate American heritage.

She also authored U.S. Citizenship for Dummies (2003), The Low Carb Restaurant Guide (2004), Everyday American (2008), and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Easy Freezer Meals (2011), among other books. 

After making a career of teaching others about cuisine, and citizenship — she made the move into the cannabis space where her mantra, “be involved, be educated, celebrate,” still resonates. 

Closeted Smoker to Educated Activist

Cannabis entered Sicard’s life in her late 30s.

“I came late to the party,” she explains. Aside from an occasional toke at a soiree, she says she never really consumed it — not until her doctor recommended it for chronic nausea.

“It worked for that, plus a whole lot of other things,” she says, including gastrointestinal issues, and symptoms of depression.

“It dramatically changed my life,” Sicard adds. 

But, she was raised on Reefer Madness. Despite the positive effects she experienced, Sicard still worried she was harming herself by using cannabis. 

“That’s when I immersed myself in the subject, and I realized I had been taught a lie,” she says. “That really pissed me off.”

Cheri Sicard: Political Junkie on a Mission

What rattled her most was that her earlier work focused on how the U.S. is supposed to work. Once she learned the truth about the Drug War, she says, “I couldn’t shut up about it.”  

Sicard went from being a closed smoker to an outspoken activist. “I haven’t been back since,” she adds.

She turned her anger into activism and began advocating for prisoners currently serving life sentences for cannabis offenses. 

For the most part, the public is unaware that there is such a thing as people who are serving life for pot, Sicard explains. “When I tell people, it’s shocking to them. They think, ‘There’s got to be more involved, there’s got to be dead bodies somewhere.’ But no — it’s just for marijuana.

Sicard works to raise awareness, and rally public support via social media for those serving life for cannabis. 

Whether it’s organizing fundraisers or garnering support for clemency efforts, Sicard’s goal is to “to make sure [the prisoners] know that the public is watching.”

The work is rewarding, Sicard explains, “We’ve seen a lot of victories.” However, there is a long way to go toward righting the wrongs of the Drug War. 

This is where her experience as an entertainer helps serve her in her advocacy work. “The show goes on no matter what,” she explains. “No matter how discouraging it gets, you can’t give up.”

Evolving into a Cannabis Foodie

When cannabis became part of her life, it became part of her food, too.

Naturally, Sicard began to cook with cannabis. Though she was an experienced cook and professional recipe developer — she had to learn the basics of combining the two.

“There wasn’t great information out there at the time. Most of the cookbooks out there weren’t great, and had conflicting information,” she adds. “I had to learn what worked and what didn’t on my own.”

She had her fair share of failures. One of which she describes on her newly launched Cannademy website. 

“[…] When I first started trying to cook with cannabis, there was a great three-day camp-out music festival that a lot of my friends can barely remember. That’s because most of them slept through it.” 

Sicard explains that was due to overestimated tolerances, and her lack of knowledge about making edibles for a crowd.

She learned there’s no one size fits all model for edibles. So, she began to hone-in simple, effective recipes.

That’s when she made her move the world of cannabis and food, becoming a leader in infused recipe development for home chefs. 

In 2012, she self-published The Cannabis Gourmet Cookbook, followed by Mary Jane: The Complete Marijuana Handbook (2015), and most recently, The Easy Cannabis Cookbook (2018).

Her books have gained mainstream attention; Mary Jane is sold at Urban Outfitters, and the Easy Cookbook became the top seller in its category after its release. 

Now, Sicard is taking her skill sets to digital audiences through a series of online courses.

A Pretty Magical Thing

Sicard’s courses focus on the nuances of cooking with cannabis. Topics currently range from skincare to easy cooking for home chefs. She even offers a free course on how to properly dose edibles.

Sicard aims to help consumers who are confused, and inundated with bad information or experiences.

She believes that there’s no such thing as an infused product that works for everyone. This is, in part, why she is focused on teaching others how to create — and properly dose — their own infusions.

Affordability is also a motivation.

Learning how to create your own topicals, for example, can be cost-effective and work just as well or better than products on the market because recipes can be personalized, Sicard explains. 

What sets her courses apart from others is that she directly consults and troubleshoots with her students. 

Because everybody reacts differently, she says, “I really try to focus on where that spot is for them — which can be a pretty magical thing.” 

A personal, and fan-favorite topical recipe is her Lavender Green Tea Whipped Cannabis Body Butter, which is made with Matcha Green Tea powder, beeswax, and hemp seed oil among other ingredients. 

Sicard teaches a free course on how to make the body butter at home with three basic ingredients: coconut oil, cannabis, and tapioca flour or cornstarch. She also offers a tutorial on how to upgrade the recipe with essential oils, extracts, teas and more.  

In terms of dishes, Sicard’s favorites are savory and spicy infusions, like pizza, or barbeque shrimp, she shares. 

She does have a foodie pet peeve; Gummies, or fat-free infusions. 

“Cannabis is better in foods that contain fat,” she explains.

That’s because cannabinoids, like THC and CBD, are fat-soluble, meaning they need fats to dissolve and become bioavailable.

In fact, a recent University of Minnesota study finds that “CBD exposure is vastly increased when CBD is taken with high fatty foods.”

Because of that, Sicard warns consumers to steer clear of fat-free edibles; “Down with fat-free gummies!”  

Sicard credits her success to her brutal honesty. She won’t give you any bullshit, she assures. While she admits that people don’t always like what she tells them, it’s a definite strength in an industry so wrought with misinformation.

Her advice to others is not to be hesitant about cannabis as she was. 

“Get over that. This is something that is good for you. It’s healthy and has long term preventive health benefits.”

Cannabis should be celebrated, not treated as a vice, she says. 

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Industry Innovators

Peter Barsoom: Engineering Edibles & Elevating Expectations

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PHOTOS | 1906

Continuing cannabis legalization has seen a boom in innovation and product development. One of the categories that has benefited the most is edibles. Gone are the days of freaking out from one too many weedy brownies. Modern edibles are healthier and more effective, in direct response to consumer demands. They are discreet, measured and the consumer experience and expectations can be precisely dialed in.

Peter Barsoom is the CEO of 1906, one of Colorado’s most successful and innovative edibles companies. 1906 has just released a groundbreaking product that marks a quantum leap for cannabis medicine: 1906 Drops that utilize pharma technology.

Cannabis Aficionado spoke to Barsoom about being first to market, his stance on social responsibility and cannabis entrepreneurialism.

Tell us about your journey through entrepreneurship and how you found your way to cannabis?

Prior to cannabis, I spent 20 years in finance in New York. The idea of getting into the cannabis market was really my wife’s idea. We came up to Colorado in mid-2014 and immediately realized how amazing the quality of the flower that was available to consumers. We wanted to create an edibles experience that was parallel to the amazing flower we had available to us — that’s when we started 1906.

Can you tell us a little about the name 1906?

1906 was the year the Wiley Act — also known as the Pure Food and Drug Act — was passed, which effectively started the prohibition of cannabis. Our mission is to do two things: bring awareness to the last 100 years of prohibition and also to bring cannabis back to its pre-prohibition status as a mainstream substance.

In your own words, what makes 1906 different from other edible companies on the market?

We focus on three things to attract a larger group of cannabis consumers for whom it could be an alternative for either alcohol or pharmaceuticals

Number one is great flavor. Because our product is food, it should taste like food and be healthy like the food we want to put in our bodies.

Two, it should deliver a specific effect. People use cannabis not just for getting high. People use it to help with sleep, give some relief from pain, help with anxiety, a boost of energy — there’s a specific reason why you or I use cannabis and it’s not just for “getting high.”

Third is that it’s fast-acting. Because I’m a New Yorker, I believe patience is a virtue and you shouldn’t have to wait for 60 minutes to 90 minutes for your edibles to kick in.

Can you go into detail on your patented ‘microencapsulation technology’ and the role it plays in your edibles?

Microencapsulation is the technology that we utilize that comes from the pharmaceutical world. Pharma knows how to make drugs get into your system faster. Or, in some cases, the extended release version.

We licensed the technology from a Canadian bioscience company, which is called a lipid microencapsulation. What that means is, by combining cannabis with the medium-chain fatty acid, it allows it to bypass or skip digestion, and get into your bloodstream faster.

Also, it avoids the degradation of the cannabinoids by your stomach acid, so you get more of the cannabinoids into your bloodstream.  You could almost think of it is as like a bullet train, where the cannabinoids are passengers that get into your bloodstream much faster and are protected more than the normal digestion.

Tell us about your exciting new product, the first medical cannabis pills on the market?

Yup, that’s correct. It really is very simple. At one level, it’s revolutionary. Another level, it’s as normal as anything else.

As Americans, we have four and a half billion prescriptions annually. Most of those come in what format? Pills that we swallow. The predominant way that Americans take medicine is in a pill form. It could be your pill for your cholesterol, your pill for sleep, your pill for anxiety. It was always odd to me that as cannabis is medicine, why wasn’t it available in the traditional medicinal format?

The second thing came from our consumers, which is that our consumers were asking for a vegan, gluten-free, portable, discreet way to take 1906. Maybe it’s somebody who can’t take chocolate because they have hypoglycemia, or they’re somebody who’s going out on a hike and can’t take chocolate pretzel because those will melt. There were a whole bunch of cases and demands from consumers for different products.

Pills are the way that we Americans consume our medicine. So, Drops was born from that work, bringing to the market a discreet, portable, vegan, gluten-free, something-you-can-swallow format.

Drops are the first cannabis pills on the market.

So, you’re reaching a new audience that doesn’t necessarily buy edibles or smoke flower or vape. But they’ll happily take a cannabis pill.

So true.  For a lot of people, it feels more accessible and acceptable in that format.

How’s the response been?

Phenomenal. We’ve had great, great feedback from the stores, and from our customers, so far. We have something that will resonate.

Where are they currently available?

Only in Colorado.

Any expansion plans?

Massachusetts, Michigan, Illinois and New Jersey will all be rolling out over 2020. Those are very exciting markets. There’s a great demand for these products in the new, young markets that are beginning to legalize. We can build the brand on the East Coast.

Can you tell us more about your GROW cannabis program?

We’ve developed a program called GROW Cannabis, which stands for Generate Real Opportunity for Working in Cannabis. This is for those individuals who’ve been negatively impacted by the War on Drugs. It was never a War on Drugs — it was a war on people. The people who’ve been negatively impacted, who are now out in society, their lives have been significantly damaged. The opportunities lost, the time that they spent in prison and so forth, is truly an injustice.

We think we have a responsibility to help those who’ve been incarcerated, to get back into society, through employment. This industry will create thousands of new jobs. Why not create a training program, so those people can gain real employment in this industry? So that’s what we’re doing. We’ll be launching next year in New Jersey, to get the program right and then we’ll be rolling it out in other areas.

As a New Yorker, what are your thoughts on the current situation in that state?

It’s hard. Every other state, besides Illinois, has done it through a ballot intuitive. It is very hard… it’s so political. I totally get it, the challenges they have. It takes a little while. It will happen. It takes like two years.

How can the cannabis industry, as a whole, be better?

I think it’s about remembering the community and how we got here. We got here because a lot of people were unfortunately incarcerated. That makes for a unique perspective. How we give back to the community? We’re creating a new industry, so we get to write new rules for it.

What trends do you predict for cannabis, going into the ‘Roaring Twenties’?

You know, I have… all I know is, it’s all being dictated by consumers. That’s where we’re seeing changes. The demand for legalizing, the demands for social use, the delivery, other options like that. If we’re looking into where consumers are, that’s what predicts what the future looks like.

With your experience, what do you see happening in the cannabis industry 1, 5 and 10 years from now?

I think in the next year, we’ll see something happen at a federal level — maybe not legalization, but maybe banking. In 10 years, we’ll start to see places where people can consume both cannabis and alcohol, in the same place. That will transform social use. It will transform how we gather… I think we will see beverages be a much larger way in which people consume cannabis.

What do you wish you knew when you started out cannabis entrepreneurship?

I wish knew how hard it was going to be. In retrospect, maybe I don’t wish? Maybe if I knew how hard it is, I might not have… but it is some of the most rewarding five years of my life.

Finally, what are three things people don’t know about what it takes to be a cannabis entrepreneur?

I think, number one, it will take more time and money than you can possibly predict. Number two: believe in what it is that you’re doing and listen to consumer demand. Keeping the consumer at the center of things, you’re more likely to be successful. Number three: I get a lot of advice from other folks in the business. This is one of the friendliest industries I’ve ever been a part of.

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Industry Innovators

Chef Andrea Drummer: Creating an Elevated Dining Experience

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Chef Andrea Drummer
PHOTO | Marina Thompson

Being able to smoke, vape, and ingest cannabis legally in a place other than your own home used to be nothing more than a pipe dream. But times are changing — especially within the rapidly expanding industry of mainstream marijuana.

In 2018, the city of West Hollywood (WeHo), Los Angeles, announced it would be granting eight consumption licenses to create cannabis havens — positioning itself to become a world-class destination that will rival the best lounges in the Netherlands.

First to open was Lowell Herb Co. and its stunning Original Cannabis Café (rebranded from Lowell Café in November) that opened to the public on October 1, 2019. While infused cuisine is not yet on the menu, patrons can sample both farm-to-table cuisine and cannabis, with authentic Californian flavors. Highly trained sensimilla sommeliers provide tableside flower service, to explain the available consumption options and cultivars, specifically chosen to pair with the first-of-its-kind food menu created by Chef Andrea Drummer.

Chef Drummer is renowned for her expertise in pairing cuisine with cannabis cultivars that complement the weed’s terpene and flavor profiles. She is also the executive chef and co-owner of the Cannabis Café. A pioneering leader in both the cannabis and culinary industries, Chef Drummer is a world-class Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef who has crafted meals for Wiz Khalifa, Miguel and Chelsea Handler.

We were lucky to be early through the doors of this already iconic hot spot, to sit down to lunch with Chef Drummer and learn more about the history-making menu.

Chef Andrea Drummer. PHOTO | Marina Thompson

Cannabis Aficionado:  Tell us about the Original Cannabis Café, the first cannabis restaurant in America.

Chef Drummond: The Original Cannabis Café is the first of its kind — it’s completely beyond any of our imaginations. An onsite consumption cannabis café where you’re able to have a great meal and indulge in some of our beautiful flower here that we offer.

You’ve crafted a food menu to pair with the experience of smoking and ingesting cannabis. Can you elaborate on that?

Throughout the extent of my career in cannabis, I’ve been able to infuse the food directly based on the flavor profiles of the cuisine and the terpenes in the bud. But we’re unable to do that just yet. Our menu is an offshoot of that experience — pairing the same flavor profiles of the bud that we offer with the cuisine, so I have to be very mindful of what flavor profiles I’m putting on the menu. I want to do some really intense flavors, things that enhance the cannabis experience, while being considerate of what flavors and notes come forward when you partake or indulge in cannabis.

PHOTO | Wonho Frank Lee

What excites you about the next stage of the cannabis-infused food evolution?

What’s exciting is that we get to implement all of these culinary ideas — like gastronomy and different methods of cooking — and pair them with the cannabis consumption experience. So, we’ll be able to really play around with these ideas and these notions. It’ll be great to see other chefs really get involved and put their stamp and mark on the industry.

I suspect we’ll see more shows on Netflix that are more cerebral and thoughtful. Maybe some things on Travel Channel — things that are more, for lack of a better term, mainstream. Things that will help normalize the idea of cannabis consumption paired with cuisine and infusing directly. I’d love to get back to that.

Is there a differentiation between somebody who wants to use a concentrate versus a flower? Are you trying to guide them towards different taste experiences?

I am more adept with pairing flower versus vapes — although, I paired one vape that was pretty delicious. I tend to go more towards the flower because that’s been my experience. Of course, I hope to become more versed in everything else.

Are you leading any education platforms around cannabis and food?

I have reached out to some culinary institutes to see if it’s something they’d be interested in looking at in the future. They’re open to it. Not many are averse to the idea. They just don’t know how to fit it into the curriculum. From talking to them, that seems to have been the conundrum.

Now that we have the freedom to do it and explore — what we’ve been able to do here at the café — I would hope to see culinary institutes implement courses to teach this type of science and this type of cooking.

PHOTO | Wonho Frank Lee

You’re also a well-known advocate and activist for the legalization of cannabis and the social injustices associated with it. What do you see happening from here?

I know there’s work to be done. You can’t miss the fact that I’m a woman, and that I’m black, so that comes in the way of inspiring others and speaking to social injustice. The fact that I’m here, free, talking to you, in this place, while other folks that look like me are incarcerated — some with life sentences — isn’t lost on me. It’s incumbent upon me to be active, not only by inspiring but also in the hiring processes and further activism.

What’s next for the Original Cannabis Café?

We’re focused on doing the best job for the communities — the cannabis community, the culinary community and West Hollywood. In the immediate future, I’m looking forward to launching our brunch menu, which is exciting. We have the opportunity to play around with ideas. That’s super exciting because there isn’t a template for it.

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